Saturday, November 17, 2012

Digital art is continuously developing and is generally qualified as art work that incorporates technology and computers. It has evolved into a diverse collection of practices that range from object-oriented works to those art forms that integrate dynamic and interactive elements with a process-driven virtual form.  

The Internet has afforded many individuals a global platform and exchange of information. For artists, the advent of the World Wide Web and recent developments in wireless technologies and mobile devices enhance the means of accessibility and mass circulation of artwork[1].  In addition, there has been a growing enterprise and popularity of gaming. Currently, it is considered to be a billion dollar industry which has been an important factor in the ‘digital revolution’ as it has explored many paradigms that are now common in interactive art.[2] It has become increasingly more lucrative and exceeds the film industry. Artists have given games a different value other than entertainment or fun when it merges and engages with culture.  Pippin Bar is an artist who operates within the realm of the Internet and combines both text and the tactics of games to express and distribute his messages and work. He uses the structures of games as a means of creative expression, as instruments for conceptual thinking and as tools to help examine social issues and the world around us. There is a wide variety of genres of games which includes strategic, shooters, god games, and action.

Several successful video games are extremely violent ‘shooters’ genre. Hence, it seems only likely that digital artworks would critically investigate their interactive predecessors and counterparts and explore their paradigms in a different context[3]. Video games such as, Barr’s War Game (2012) is an action shooter game that explores the human psyche through a seemingly endless cycle of fighting and self evaluation.  

War Game [4]has visual similarities to old halcyon handheld LCD games and Barr creates it with features such as beep sounds, slow refresh rates and intentional glitches. As the game progresses and as the user is further injured, the more glitches are experienced. The glitches begin to take the form of civilians, letters and harmful bombs. As the player is injured there is a mandatory mental health self evaluation where the player expresses his/her own thoughts in 100 characters or less on war, fighting and family. The glitches make everything difficult to read and metaphorically appear that the soldier’s judgments and mental constructs are slowly deteriorating every time the soldier is forced to fight or experience more battles. Throughout history, there has been a mental illness that is caused by war presently referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder. Military combat is one the potential sources of this condition. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in increased military related suicides. In the year of 2009, approximately 1500 veterans who were deployed or experienced these wars have made suicide attempts[5]. This aspect of the game is a commentary on the mistreatment of military veterans and the effects on their health.

Additionally, in War Game, Barr shows a human condition of fighting where it does not make sense, there are no sides and there is no identity for the opponent. The game evokes rhetorical questions such as, does the player even care about who is the opposition and why the player is fighting this battle. The game is not sensible with enticingly unconventional and unsolvable game goals that are not articulated. Text becomes a vital element in the game. The decision of making the psyche evaluation 100 characters in War Game makes a profound effect on how the game operates. The limitation can suggest oppression as the player’s answer is cut off immediately at the character limit which can also be interpreted as a metaphor that the military psychologist is not listening. Barr is making a statement on the human foibles such as excessive competitiveness and winning against one another. There is the commentary of war being hopeless and the question of the aspect of the play function or functionality[6]. Barr’s emphasises on the player’s process. As he is not solely the creator of the work, Barr’s role is a facilitator for audiences’ interaction and contribution to the artwork.

Another game is Let there be Smite! (2011)[7]: This is a humorous god game that allows the user to play the role of God and to decide whether to punish or forgive all the sinners in the world. The humour of the game focuses on religion and god games. It is also a satire on the social behaviours of humans. It equates being God as a metaphor of monotonous and tedious desk job where the player deals with the sins of the world as they arise. Sins are defined by the parameters of the Ten Commandments. The player can either forgive or smite the sinner in an infinite cycle. The visual simulation is a view of a “surveillance” camera and then popping dialog boxes that notify the users of the sins committed by the community. As the population grows, the speed of the sins committed increases and it becomes increasingly overwhelming and ultimately the player may activate the panic button can be activated where in the virtual reality a great flood occurs and washes away the sinners to start humanity afresh. However, it is a cycle of a community that is committing a wide range of sins. [8] During this chaos, there is the moment when the player would no longer read and respond to the sins in an inattentive manner. In games, it is common that players would consider their course of action, however the game intensifies that inattentive state while proceeding in relation to the ambiguous boundaries of accepted morals and behaviours that should not be treated in that unmanageable way. Barr’s design creates the impression that humanity is bound to commit sins, that humans have weaknesses and foibles and the role of God is to decide how much can be tolerated.

Furthermore, Barr sees games as a fascinating means to circumvent the unconscious expression and authorship itself. His strategy of clever manipulations of data, texts, phrases and visuals contribute to humorous, satirical and wry commentaries on art and world issues.  Barr is concerned with social issues and employs game-like structures and interactivity as the opportunity to involve the viewers in heightened ways. Although any experience with art is interactive, it relies on a relationship between context and production of meaning from the audience.  Thus, the interactive experience of traditional forms resonates as a mental event in the viewer. However, the interactivity in digital art offers different forms of navigating, assembling, or contributing to an artwork that goes beyond this purely mental event. The participant’s involvement is with a work confronted with complex possibilities of remote and immediate interventions that are unique to the digital medium[8]. Barr provides a lens through which we engage the world not just the arts but also politics, the military, psychology and history. Barr spurs untraditional approaches to game design and tries to foster intervention which can address social issues. 

Since the early 1990s, digital art had made profound developments and it continues to expand. It engages audiences in a unique process that consists of information, textual, visual and aural components and does not reveal the artist’s intention and content at a glance. The expansion of digital technology will continue to have a great impact on the world. Artists often mirror their time and induce the creation of even more artworks that reflect and critically engage life and culture. The artist manipulates content, codes of conduct, contact conception and ways of interacting.

[1] Paul, Christiane. Digital art. (London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008), 7
[2] Ibid., 18
[3] Rush, Michael. New Media in Art. London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005, 213
[4]  Pippin Barr. “War Game”. Accessed October 16, 2012.
[5]  Huffington Post. “Veteran Suicide: Are We Losing The Battle?” Accessed October 20, 2012.
[6] MOMA. “ Contemporary Art Forum: Critical Play – The Game as an Art Form”. Accessed on October 13, 2012.
[7] Pippin Barr. “War Game”. Accessed October 16, 2012.
[8]Pippin Barr. “War Game”. Accessed October 16, 2012.
[9] Wong, Chee-Onn, Keechul Jung, and Joonsung Yoon. “Interactive Art: The Art That Communicates.” Leonardo 42, no. 2 (January 1, 2009): 180–181.